Marketing needs to be proud

Image of a marketing team

 By  Junior Warden Professor Ian Ryder

After a commercial lifetime in which I spent many, many hours / days trying to explain to a variety of C-suite colleagues or clients (B2B / SME)  about the importance, relevance and absolute criticality of marketing to the company’s current and future success, I have become just a tad weary seeing articles which attack our essential function.

Whether it comes from a journalist looking for publicity for themselves, or a newcomer looking to make a name, or a research company trying to gain clients (I’ve caught out both MORI and Forrester at this game) or, in my view the worst of all, an existing marketer for whatever reasons they may hold, I always feel as though someone just said my baby was ugly!

Please don’t get me wrong, there are things about the marketing profession that we really need to fix – making sure we only have properly qualified and trained staff in all marketing roles is one big one!

But just as there are “bad” or under-qualified individuals in all professions and trades, we simply don’t see many articles from other professions or academia about other professions, that play the same sentiment as:  “The Death of Marketing”, Marketing losing it’s strategic significance”, “CMOs in a desperate fight for survival” and even “Coca Cola scraps CMO role”!! There are many more. (FYI, Coca Cola was actually just a name change to Chief Growth Officer!)

I want this to be just a short plea to the Marketing profession to have some pride – if you truly understand the contribution we make, and the deep skills needed to do our roles fully, effectively and professionally then you will know what I mean here.

I’m going to use just two examples to demonstrate this “sickness”.

There was a recent article in one of the UK’s leading marketing magazines, in which a regular contributor, a Professor himself, reviewed a long-running survey done in the USA by Duke University and entitled simply  “The CMO Survey”. I must say that this is also sponsored by two eminently respected other organisations, Deloitte and the AMA.

My criticism is not about the survey itself, or its 10 year historic data mountain, but the angle that was highlighted by the UK article, whose primary focus was “Marketer’s strategic responsibilities are eroding away to nothing”. A serious claim indeed!

The author focused on, in his own words, “….one small, innocuous table towards the end of the 2020 report.”

Now, I have read through this report, and analysed the table, and I see something very different which I would like to share by way of balance.

I need to explain that the survey comprises feedback from 265 marketers, 67% of whom were B2B and 40% of the total were from companies with less than$100m revenues. So a heavy bias to the most under-trained marketing staff, in B2B, and, in the SME world, the most likely to use un-qualified staff. I have seen this over and over during more than 35 years’ experience working in the function across a variety of industries.

The primary claim and focus of the article then, and I will both quote and paraphrase was: “Marketing’s strategic responsibilities are eroding away to nothing”, and essentially, all marketing is good for and likely to be doing is Communications. The conclusion to the piece focuses on an interview with one of his “senior clients” who was extremely disparaging (disloyal) about her own team, and which he used to prove that the CMO Survey proved her remarks were where the marketing profession was headed!

I will give you my take on this one table: of the 25 elements they use (e.g. Brand; Digital Marketing; Promotion etc..) no less than eleven of them were showing increased responsibilities. These included such things as Digital Marketing, Social Media, Insight, Customer Experience and Customer Service, exactly where you would want to see marketing. Were there some “down” markers in what we might consider key marketing areas?  Yes there were, but within the details of the report it stated very clearly that in those areas “…whilst marketing may not always lead….it makes important strategic contributions to these areas.”

Therefore, if you allow for the make up of the respondents, the various views of what each would interpret as “lead” when answering the questions, and the bias of B2B and SMEs, I’d say that the fact that “Marketing Capabilities ranked “highest quality knowledge asset” , and the fact that we were shown as having increased leadership in those critical areas I mention in the preceding paragraph, ought to have made a much better review of this established survey.

It could then have picked up on another survey reveal, “Companies build new marketing capabilities by training current staff or hiring new employees with the right skills”. And THIS would have given emphasis and impetus to the need we do have in our function to which I referred in my third paragraph.

Which is where the second of my examples comes in. An esteemed and global superstar in our world of marketing, Professor Malcolm McDonald, has for many years, and throughout his 50 books, always understood the challenges of our profession but never publicly knocked or mocked it.

Instead, he has always taken a gentle approach of mild ridicule of any weaknesses, then goes on to explain the theory, show them how to do it properly and enjoyed the success of seeing enlightenment! He is also passionate about the need for better trained/ qualified marketers.

So in summary, I would ask all marketers, whether practising or in academia, to please, “Talk Proud – Walk Proud”. 

Get qualified if you are not, or expect to be mocked if you are not. And to employers, I implore you to hire suitably qualified / experienced marketing staff and don’t complain or blame if you hire staff who aren’t, and who don’t subsequently deliver – most certainly don’t do what the example I showed here did, and deride / ridicule your own staff to someone else! Look in the mirror for the culprit!

Marketing has actually always been the core function for commercial success (yes I know all the “Sales is it” arguments!), and customers have always been the only reason any commercial enterprise stays in business.

If you want to read surveys like “The CMO Survey “ from Duke’s please do, it has lots of good stuff in there – especially about our great function’s increasing role in taking care of customers and providing strategic business support….from where all else follows!

I’d have been much happier seeing the headline for the article to which I refer urging: “Marketing’s strategic role is evolving – B2B / SMEs need to embrace marketing professionalism.” An opportunity missed I think.

I, for one, have always been proud of my function, and will work hard to recognise where we need to improve, and apply myself quietly and ceaselessly to enable change. I am sure I am not alone….

About the Author

Professor Ian Ryder is a Liveryman and Junior Warden of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and is visiting Professor at Cranfield University, at Stockholm School of Economics in Russia and Thunderbird Business School, Arizona